STEPHEN BOYD’S MAIN ASSETS: HE KNOWS HIS MIND, HAS “WALLOP”
By Erskine Johnson
Jan 9, 1960
HOLLYWOOD- (NEA) – A brass hat and the armor of a Roman warrior in “Ben-Hur” does for Stephen Boyd what a tight dress does for Marilyn Monroe.
In the movie trade it’s called “box office wallop.”
Appearing in mufti in half a dozen movies, young Boyd, an Irishman from Belfast, was just a darn good actor, but one who started no fan riots.
But as the Roman heavy Messala in “Ben-Hur,” well, the riots have started. Old dolls are flipping their wigs, young dolls are flipping their pony tails and fan magazine editors are flipping their pages to make room for Boyd.
Boyd loses the chariot race to Charlton Heston in the film, but he wins big-time stardom as a “personality actor,” something we haven’t had on the screen in some time.
That costume literally turns him into a giant of a man and a giant of a star in the good, old Hollywood tradition. Today the offers are pouring in.
Movie makers can’t wait to have Boyd buckle on a sword for more swashbuckling all the way from ancient Rome to the walls of Disneyland, and he’s already been cast as Boaz in the new 20th Century Fox spectacle, “The Story of Ruth.”
But young actors in Hollywood today are rugged individualists – and that’s “The Story of Boyd,” who says he knows what kind of roles he can play and what kind of roles he cannot play, in no uncertain words and no uncertain tone of voice.
With his box office wallop hitting the big time in “Ben-Hur,” Fox, where he is under contract, immediately announced his casting as Boaz.
To which Boyd immediately announced, “no, thank you,” which immediately started Hollywood buzzing that he didn’t want to appear in another costumer spectacle immediately following “Ben-Hur,” or he didn’t like the script.
Both reasons are wrong, according to Boyd, who told me”
“I’m an actor who knows exactly what I’m capable of playing. I’m not ready for the role of Boaz. If someone asked me today to star in a film version of ‘Hamlet,’ I’d say the same thing – ‘I’m not ready.’
“I wouldn’t know what to do with Hamlet, and I don’t know what to do with Boaz. I think the picture would be much better without me. It’s a good script – a great script. It’s a great role – for someone else, not me.
“I’ve ruined pictures before because I’ve been talked into them against my better judgement. I’d starve – and I have starved – rather than accept a role I’m not ready for.
“I need to work, but this part is just wrong for me.”
Since he had been dedicated to acting since the age of 10, and since he is a moody, volatile fellow, the studio wasn’t too surprised.
Now threatened with suspension, Boyd is sitting it out while the studio and his agents fight it out.
Born in Belfast of a poor family, Boyd first appeared on U.S. movie screens as the Irish spy in “The Man Who Never Was.”
“Island in the Sun,” “The Bravados,” “Woman Obsessed,” and several European films, one with Brigitte Bardot, followed. “Ben-Hur” was his 12th, and the cincher for his career.
While working in “Ben-Hur” in Rome, he was married briefly to a doll who represents the MCA office there. By the time he returned to Hollywood they were divorced. His explanation:
“I honestly thought this was it, but I’m an Irish so-and-so when I’m working.”
Right now 20th Century Fox is discovering that he’s an Irish so-and-so when he doesn’t want to work in a role he says “I’m not ready for.*